I’ll come right out with it: Jon Huntsman is my early favorite on the 2012 GOP list. I will admit, however, that his recent decision to skip the Iowa Caucuses puzzles me. Granted, it’s certainly possible to win the GOP nomination without winning Iowa (e.g. McCain in 2008), but it’s arguably very difficult to get the nomination without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. (Just ask Rudy Guiliani how well the Florida strategy worked out for him last time around…) So Iowa is out for Huntsman, which leaves New Hampshire as virtually essential. My hunch, however, is that Mitt Romney’s currently a pretty good bet to win New Hampshire due to his regional appeal and the nature of New Hampshire Republicans (they tend to be more economically rather than socially conservative). I also have a hunch that Huntsman and his team are likely aware of all this.
So my best guess at this point is this: Huntsman’s primary goal may not be to win the GOP nomination this time around. Perhaps he’s betting on the fact that Obama has a decent shot to win re-election and he’d be more than happy to let some other GOP candidate take the fall in the 2012 general election. However, with a campaign infrastructure in place from 2012 and the name recognition that he’ll get campaigning for the next several months, he’ll likely be in good shape to be competitive in 2016, when he won’t have to challenge a moderately popular incumbent benefitting from a recovering (however slowly…) economy.